Best Backpacking Sleeping Pad of 2021
Testing sleeping pads in Utah. Photo credit: Matt Granger.

The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2021

Our trail-loving experts found the best backpacking sleeping pads for every use and budget. From side-sleeping comfort to ultralight packability, we’ve got you covered.

The biggest concern with backpacking sleeping pads is finding the right balance between comfort and weight. And this balance depends largely on the individual. Ounce-counters may prefer the lightest pad possible, even if it means forgoing some comfort.

But other backpackers may prefer to give up weight in other areas so they can happily carry a larger, more comfortable sleep pad.

There’s no right or wrong, but it’s worth knowing what matters most to you before continuing. We’ve broken the best backpacking sleeping pads into categories to help you find the right sleeping pad for you.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads of 2021

Best Overall Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Insulated

Our editor has been testing this sleeping pad ($200-220) since it came out in 2015. And as of 2021, it’s still going strong, having never sprung a leak!

One of our favorite things about this is the double air chambers. We normally worry about popping lightweight sleeping pads and being left on the cold ground.

But this pad has a built-in redundancy that saves us from stress. If one side pops (which it hasn’t in many, many camping trips), the other is still good.

These double chambers also allow you to create a custom firmness. You can inflate it by blowing, which is very easy to do and doesn’t take many breaths to fill.

Or you can use the pump bag that comes integrated into the stuff sack. Either way, it’s fast and easy to fill this pad.

Sea to Summit Backpacking Sleeping Pad
Photo credit: Eric Phillips

The pad is on the heavy side for backpacking, but we’re willing to carry a little extra weight when temps drop low at night. The redundancy alone is worth a few extra ounces, and the pad works great for car camping too.

It comes with a repair kit. Although the 40-denier fabric isn’t the toughest possible, we’ve found it plenty strong on top of being warm, packable, and comfortable. All in all, it’s a great backpacking and car camping sleeping pad.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 11 oz.
  • R-value: 5
  • Thickness: 2.5″
Pros
  • Dual air chambers provide redundancy and allow for custom firmness
  • Packs down small
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not as light as other pads

Check Price at Sea to Summit USA

Best Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers: Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe

Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core Deluxe

Are you looking for a sleeping pad that will keep you comfortable and warm even when you’re deep in the backcountry? Then it’s time you met the Q-Core ($159-239). With an R-value of 4.3, it delivers excellent insulation from the ground, keeping you cozy all night.

We also found it incredibly comfortable. The 3.5-inch thickness is enough to satisfy even the side sleepers among us. And the 20-inch width is just enough to keep most testers happy.

For added comfort, there are wide and XL versions available. Just remember that will slightly increase the weight and packed size.

It’s not as quiet as foam-insulated camping pads, but we found the slight crinkle level acceptable. The dual valves made inflation easy. And once you get the hang of it, the inflation sack is helpful and breath-saving.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
  • R-value: 4.3
  • Thickness: 3.5″
Pros
  • Warm
  • Extremely comfortable
Cons
  • Not the lightest available

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best Budget Sleeping Pad: Klymit Static V

Klymit Static V

This pack ($44) is an incredible value. For less than 50 bucks, you can get a super-packable and quite comfortable backpacking pad. At a little over a pound, it’s not ultralight, but it’s certainly on the light end of the spectrum.

It packs down easily and only takes a few breaths to inflate. We’ve had one in testing that wore out after 6 months of hard use and stopped holding air. But we’ve had another in testing for more than 18 months with no durability concerns.

If you sleep cold or are camping out during the cold season, you may want to consider a pad with a higher warmth rating. The Static also comes in a long and wide version if you need a little more wiggle room. They weigh and cost a bit more, but they offer up more comfort and still clock in under $100.

  • Weight: 18.6 oz.
  • R-value: 1.3
  • Thickness: 2.5″
Pros
  • Packs small
  • Affordable
Cons
  • Not insulated
  • Long-term durability concerns

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best Ultralight Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Uberlite

Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite Sleeping Pad

The most impressive thing about this pad ($159-229) is the weight — or lack thereof. It won’t weigh you down at just 8.8 ounces. And because it packs down to the size of a soda can, you’ll have more room in your pack for other gear and snacks.

But what really won us over is its comfort level. We were pleasantly surprised to find it felt great and wasn’t noisy.

As one tester noted, “It was just as comfortable as other air mattresses of the same thickness. I could sleep on my side at my preferred air pressure without shoulder or hip pain.

“I flip sides while sleeping, and the UberLite was worlds quieter than the XLite, something tentmates and campsite neighbors will appreciate. (I’ve had neighboring campers get up and move in the middle of the night because of the crackling of my XLite.)”

Since 2020, Therm-a-Rest backpacking sleeping pads have featured the WingLock Valve. The wings toggle for one-way inflation, making it far easier to blow up. It’s the same easy-to-use Therm-a-Rest valves we’ve reliably used for years, except greatly improved.

It’s also available in a large version, which retails for $229 and weighs in at 12 ounces.

  • Weight: 8.8 oz.
  • R-value: 2
  • Thickness: 2.5″
Pros
  • Extremely light
  • Packs down to the size of a soda can
Cons
  • Not as warm as insulated pads

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

First Look: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Air Mattress
First Look: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite Air Mattress

The Therm-a-rest NeoAir UberLite is the lightest insulated air mattress ever made. We tested the NeoAir UberLite for this review. Read more…

Best Double Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes SLX Tent Floor

Big Agnes SLX Tent Floor

Backcountry snugglers rejoice! Here’s a double sleeping pad ($300) that is comfortable, packable, and light enough to take on the trail.

As our editor noted in the full review, “The pad isn’t superlight at 2 pounds 6 ounces, but it’s insulated and plenty thick. To inflate the 3.5-inch-thick double pad, there’s an inflate valve that you blow into. With that alone, it would take some time and energy to fully inflate it.

“We opted for the extra Pumphouse Ultra bag ($35) that you connect to the inflate valve, blow a mouthful of air into, then roll the top and squeeze the full bag of air into the pad. The contraption is extremely handy, weighs next to nothing (2.9 ounces), and significantly speeds up the process of inflating the pad.”

  • Weight: 2 lbs. 10 oz.
  • R-value: Unavailable
  • Thickness: 3.5″
Pros
  • Backcountry snuggling
  • Thick
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Larger packed size

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Warmest Backpacking Sleeping Pad: Exped Downmat XP 9

Exped DownMat Insulated Backpacking Sleeping Pad

If you love to camp all year round (even when the mercury drops) or just can’t get warm at night, this extra-warm sleeping pad ($229-249) is for you. The combination of 3.5 inches of air and 700-fill goose down makes this one of the warmest backpacking pads out there.

At 1 pound 15 ounces, it’s not the lightest option, but it’s a reasonable weight in the pack for the warmth. You can inflate the pad by mouth, but that’s a rather slow process. Instead, we recommend you use the included Schnozzel Pump Bag, which also doubles as a dry sack.

If you only camp in warmer weather, it’s not worth the price or weight. But if you love winter backpacking, this pad can’t be beat.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz.
  • R-value: 8
  • Thickness: 3.5″
Pros
  • Warm
  • Thick
  • Comfortable
Cons
  • Not as light as other pads
  • Unnecessarily warm for summer camping

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Most indestructible: Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol

z lite sol

There’s a reason closed-cell foam is a cult classic. It’s light, it’s warm, and it’s virtually indestructible. No wonder you regularly see it listed among thru-hikers’ favorite pieces of gear.

The aluminized surface (the silver side) of this pad ($45) reflects heat back at your body and provides extra warmth at night. And the egg-carton pattern increases comfort and insulation.

Even if you don’t plan to use this as your sole sleeping pad, it’s a great addition to whatever else you choose. It provides unmatched durability and extra insulation needed for a good night’s rest.

  • Weight: 14 oz.
  • R-value: 2.6
  • Thickness: 0.75″
Pros
  • Indestructible
  • Multifunctional
  • Light
Cons
  • Not as comfortable as other sleeping pads

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best of the Rest

Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus

Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus Sleeping Pad

Since 2020, Therm-a-Rest backpacking sleeping pads have featured the WingLock Valve. The wings toggle for one-way inflation, making it far easier to blow up. It’s the same easy-to-use Therm-a-Rest valves we’ve reliably used for years — but greatly improved.

This Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad ($95-125) is comfortable and warm without sacrificing much in the realm of price and packed size. Made from a mix of foam and air baffles, it offers an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio.

We gave it a couple of breaths to top it off and were immediately pleased with the comfort and insulation. It packs down smaller than a roll of paper towels and weighs a little over a pound.

Depending on your sleep warmth, this could be a year-round sleeping pad with an R-value of 3.2, but most will prefer something more insulated in winter.

It’s also available in a women’s-specific design.

  • Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
  • R-value: 3.2
  • Thickness: 1.5″
Pros
  • Warm
  • Comfortable
Cons
  • Not as light as some pads

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated

Sea to Summit Ether Light XT Insulated

This insulated sleeping pad ($180-200) packs down small and has some extra features that make it stand out.

First off, we liked the integrated pump bag that’s built into the stuff sack (called the Airstream pump). Basically, you just lightly blow into the bag and then squeeze the air into the pad. It seems weird at first, but it’s much less energy-intensive than directly blowing up the pad.

This pad also has “pillow lock” that helps certain Sea to Summit pillows stay in place. Its sticky felt grabs onto the pillow to keep it from moving around while you sleep.

If you already have an Aeros Pillow, this could be great. If not, it might not do you any good.

These features aside, this pad provides extra insulation for cold nights and is light enough to easily take backpacking. It’s not the cheapest out there, but this is an excellent choice if extra insulation and less weight are important to you.

  • Weight: 15 oz.
  • R-value: 3.8
  • Thickness: 4″
Pros
  • Warm
  • Light
  • Packs small
Cons
  • Expensive

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

NEMO Flyer

NEMO Flyer

The NEMO Flyer ($119-140) combines the best of foam-core comfort with air bed packability. At 1 pound 6 ounces, it’s not the lightest option. But the comfort it provides is worth it to many.

As our reviewer noted, “The NEMO Flyer is a lightweight, three-season pad that hits the sweet spot between an air pad and a self-inflating foam pad. The unique air-filled foam baffles create stable, cushioned thickness with more durability and resistance to bottoming than an air pad, with a slight weight and bulk penalty. But it’s lighter and packs smaller than a self-inflating pad.”

  • Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
  • R-value: 3.3
  • Thickness: 2″
Pros
  • Foam durability and padding
  • Plus air pad comfort
Cons
  • Heavier/bulkier than some other options

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

The Best Backpacking Sleeping Pads: Buyer’s Guide

A restful night’s sleep sets you up for success on a full day of backpacking adventures. In the past, people rightfully assumed sleeping on a pad on the ground could simply never match the comfort of a real bed.

However, in recent years, sleeping pads have improved significantly. Now, with advancements in cell design and baffling, many high-quality sleeping pads offer exceptional warmth and comfort.

While comfort standards have increased, packed size and weight have also dropped, and the resulting pads are light, easy to use, and wonderful to sleep on.

Because there are many great pads on the market, it can be difficult to make a selection. In this guide, we break down some of the most important considerations for purchasing the perfect sleeping pad.

From weight and thickness to durability and price, we hope to answer all of your sleeping pad-related questions in this buyer’s guide.

Types of Sleeping Pads: Foam, Self-Inflating, and Air Pads

There are three types of backpacking sleeping pads: air pads, foam pads, and self-inflating pads. Each category has its own list of pros and cons, and it’s important to understand the differences between them.

Air Pads

Air pads are the lightest and most compact type of sleeping pad. When not in use, these pads are deflated and able to pack down into a small stuff sack about the size of a water bottle. Because most of their insulation comes trapped in air, they can become quite thick without excess weight or bulk.

Compared to other categories, air pads are the most vulnerable to punctures and air valve issues. Usually, punctures are fixable with the proper supplies, but some people stay away from air pads due to puncture risk.

Self-Inflating Pads

Self-Inflating pads have been around for many decades. Most pads in this category combine inflation with open-cell foam to decrease puncture risk and increase durability.

However, self-inflating pads do not pack down as small as air pads, and they tend to be a bit heavier. If these pads do puncture or deflate, you’ll still have some padding between you and the ground, but it won’t be a comfortable night’s sleep.

Foam Pads

Closed-cell foam pads are the original backpacking sleep system technology. Although these tend to be the least comfortable pad style, they are extremely reliable and can last for decades if treated with care.

On a foam pad, you can sleep soundly without worrying about punctures. Usually, foam pads fold or roll to pack away, but they take up far more space in your pack than other types of pads.

Weight

For backpacking, the goal is always to minimize the total weight of your pack. These days, thick and comfortable pads that are also lightweight offer an ideal solution to backpackers.

Some single-person pads are as light as half a pound, while heftier options may weigh 2 full pounds. For a good balance between weight and durability, consider a pad that weighs around 14-18 ounces.

Thickness

On uneven or rocky ground, a thin pad will feel only slightly better than lying on the bare earth. As a general rule, thicker pads are more comfortable. However, thickness does add weight and bulk, so we suggest you aim to find a happy medium.

If you are a back sleeper, your weight will be a bit more evenly distributed and you may be able to get by with a thinner pad. Side sleepers tend to prefer thicker pads.

Any inflatable pad over 3.5 inches thick will be on the more plush side. Most foam pads are less than 1 inch thick.

Comparing Sleeping Pads
Camping pad thickness directly relates to the overall comfort and warmth. Photo credit: Eric Phillips

Comfort

Generally, pads made for backpacking will be less plush than pads made for car-based camping. Because backpackers aim to minimize weight, pure comfort is not the priority.

Still, many modern pads offer a generous combination of insulation, padding, and sleeping area all in a lightweight package. For some backpackers, extra comfort is a small price to pay for extra weight.

R-Value Explained

The R-value of a pad describes the amount of insulation between the user and the ground. Insulation prevents your body heat from escaping into the earth below. Without a well-insulated pad, sleeping on the ground is very chilly, even when the air temperature is reasonably warm.

In warm summery conditions, a sleeping pad with an R-value of less than 3 should be sufficient. However, if you plan to backpack in the cooler shoulder seasons, you’ll be better off with a higher rating between 3 and 5. For winter camping, an R-value of at least 5 is the way to go.

Sleeping Pad Dimensions

Sleeping pads typically come in various sizes, and users can choose the option that best suits their body and preferences. Common sizes include regular, which is usually around 6 feet long, and large, which tends to be closer to 80 inches. Pad width also varies, but anywhere between 18 and 26 inches is fairly standard.

Most backpacking pads are semi-rectangular in shape. Some taper down and become more narrow toward the foot end. Two-person sleeping pads are also available, but they’re quite cumbersome and generally not ideal for backpacking.

sleeping pad dimensions
Photo credit: Therm-a-Rest

Packed Size

A pad’s packed size depends on construction, materials, and amount of insulation. Air pads with minimal additional built-in insulation tend to pack down smaller than all other types of pads. Most air pads fit easily into a backpacking pack — some are no larger than a football.

Packed size can be an issue for foam and self-inflating pads. Once fully rolled, these pads can be quite cumbersome, and they often have to be carried on the outside of the pack.

Inflation and Deflation

While foam pads do not require inflation to use, all other pad types are built with an integrated air valve. Historically, valves have been the weak point of sleeping pads, and they can be difficult to replace once broken.

But now, good-quality backpacking pads come with reliable valves that are airtight and offer quick and easy inflation and deflation.

Most air pads have flat valves, which include an internal flap that prevents air from escaping in between inflation breaths. These valves are simple and durable, and most pads with flat valves can be inflated with somewhere between 10 and 25 breaths.

Self-inflating pads are designed to fill up on their own once the valve is open, but they usually need some regular inflation breaths to fully pump up and become firm.

Durability and Care

With proper maintenance, a good backpacking pad can last for many years with regular use. Foam pads can take lots of abuse and last forever, but inflatable pads are fragile and must be handled with care.

Punctures are the main threat to air pads. As with all outdoor gear, abrasion resistance and fabric thickness are measured with a denier rating. Thick fabric is more resistant to punctures. Air pad denier ratings vary widely from around 15-denier to 80-denier.

As a rule, always clear away any potentially sharp objects from underneath your sleeping surface before setting up your tent. When sleeping on your pad, the use of a tent footprint creates an extra barrier between your pad and the ground. Keep your pad away from fires that may spit sparks and bits of hot ash.

As the standard has moved toward lightweight backpacking pads, many companies are using thin and potentially vulnerable materials. As with all ultralight gear, durability is not the priority. The lifespan of a lightweight pad will depend on how well it is cared for.

Best practices for storing a pad depend on the type of pad you own. Self-inflating pads should be stored unrolled with the valve open to maintain the loft of the insulation. Air pads can be stored rolled up, but always keep them in a stuff sack and make sure they are fully deflated.

For foam pad storage, avoid leaving heavy items on top of the pad. Also, if you store a foam pad rolled up, it will be difficult to get it to lay flat in the future.

Pump Sacks: Do They Work?

Some air pads come with pump sacks that allow you to pump up your pad without breathing into a valve. Pump sacks decrease inflation time and prevent moisture from getting inside your pad (which can lead to a variety of problems). Also, many pump sacks double as stuff sacks, so it shouldn’t add much weight to your setup.

However, many backpackers feel pump sacks have solved a problem that didn’t exist in the first place. While some people swear by them, they are not a necessary item.

Price

The price of a good sleeping pad varies from less than $50 to well over $200. Foam pads are the cheapest, and lightweight air pads are usually the most expensive.

As you determine your sleeping pad budget, remember your pad is an important piece of gear that will affect your quality of rest after a long day on the trail.

FAQ

What Is the Most Comfortable Backpacking Sleeping Pad?

Different backpackers have different comfort preferences. The most comfortable pad is the one that allows you to sleep soundly after a full day of hiking. Before you purchase a pad, make sure that it meets your criteria for size, thickness, materials, price and, above all else, comfort.

What Is a Good Weight for a Backpacking Sleeping Pad?

On the low end, lightweight air pads can be as little as 8 ounces. Heavy foam pads may weigh well over a pound. A four-season pad will contain more material and insulation, and a total weight between 12 and 18 ounces is normal.

What Is the Best Sleeping Pad for Side Sleepers?

Side sleepers will want a thicker pad than back sleepers. If you consistently sleep on your side, consider purchasing an air pad that is at least 3 inches. The Big Agnes Q-Core scored high marks from our side sleepers.

What Sleeping Pad Has the Highest R-Value?

For cold weather camping, you’ll want a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 5. The Exped Downmat XP 9 sleeping pad has an impressively high R-value of 8.


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